Apple edges out Samsung in fourth quarter smartphone sales

Apple regains quaterly crown for first time since 2011, as Samsung faces competition at both the premium and low-end

Strong interest in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus helped Apple sell more smartphones than Samsung in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Apple sold 74.8 million smartphones globally during the fourth quarter, up from 50.2 million in the year-earlier quarter, according to Gartner. Apple's decision to offer phones with larger screens paid off, the research firm said. U.S. and Chinese buyers are especially keen on the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, said Gartner, adding that demand for the phones is still strong in both countries. The larger screens also gave Apple customers a reason to replace their older phones.

Samsung, by comparison, sold 73 million smartphones in the fourth quarter, down from 83.3 million in 2013's fourth quarter. Samsung had held the quarterly sales title since 2011.

Samsung faces competition in both the premium and low-end smartphone markets, said Gartner, noting that Samsung's fourth quarter market share slipped to 19.9 percent from 29.5 percent. People associate high-end phones with Apple, making the company the dominate premium vendor. Meanwhile, Chinese smartphone companies are manufacturing quality smartphones and selling them for lower prices, said Gartner.

Apple's market share grew to 20.4 percent during the fourth quarter, up from 17.8 percent in the year-earlier quarter. Lenovo, which acquired Motorola in October 2014, took the third spot, selling 24.3 million phones and increasing its market share to 6.6 percent from 5.8 percent. Xiaomi's market share jumped to 5.1 percent from 2 percent.

For the full year, Samsung's smartphone sales still eclipsed Apple's figures. In 2014, Samsung sold 307.5 million smartphones, compared to Apple's 191.4 devices, Gartner said. Lenovo was the third largest smartphone vendor last year, selling 81.4 million devices. Huawei took fourth place (68 million), followed by LG Electronics (57.6 million).

The Android mobile OS powered a majority of the smartphones that were sold last year, running 1 billion phones, according to Gartner. That's up from 761.2 million phones in 2013. Apple's iOS placed second, appearing on 191.4 million phones. Windows came in third, running on 35.1 million phones, an increase from 30.7 million in 2013. Blackberry was on fewer phones in 2014 (7.9 million) than it was in the previous year (18.6 million).

Global smartphone sales totaled 1.2 billion in 2014, up from 969.7 million in 2013. Gartner said smartphones now make up 66 percent of all global mobile phone sales.

Fred O'Connor writes about IT careers and health IT for The IDG News Service. Follow Fred on Twitter at @fredjoconnor. Fred's e-mail address is fred_o'connor@idg.com

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